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Keeper Of The Bishop
by [?]

For a fortnight out of every six weeks the little white faced man walked the garrison on St. Mary’s Island in a broadcloth frock-coat, a low waistcoat and a black riband of a tie fastened in a bow; and it gave him great pleasure to be mistaken for a commercial traveller. But during the other four weeks he was head-keeper of the lighthouse on the Bishop’s Rock, with thirty years of exemplary service to his credit. By what circumstances he had been brought to enlist under the Trinity flag I never knew. But now, at the age of forty-eight he was entirely occupied with a great horror of the sea and its hunger for the bodies of men; the frock-coat which he wore during his spells on shore was a protest against the sea; and he hated not only the sea but all things that were in the sea, especially rock lighthouses, and of all rock lighthouses especially the Bishop.

“The Atlantic’s as smooth as a ballroom floor,” said he. It was a clear, still day and we were sitting among the gorse on the top of the garrison, looking down the sea towards the west. Five miles from the Scillies, the thin column of the Bishop showed like a cord strung tight in the sky. “But out there all round the lighthouse there are eddies twisting and twisting, without any noise, and extraordinary quick, and every other second, now here, now there, you’ll notice the sea dimple, and you’ll hear a sound like a man hiccoughing, and all at once, there’s a wicked black whirlpool. The tide runs seven miles an hour past the Bishop. But in another year I have done with her.” To her Garstin nodded across from St. Mary’s to that grey finger post of the Atlantic. “One more winter, well, very likely during this one more winter the Bishop will go–on some night when a storm blows from west or west-nor’west and the Irish coast takes none of its strength.”

He was only uttering the current belief of the islands. The first Bishop lighthouse had been swept away before its building was finished, and though the second stood, a fog bell weighing no less than a ton, and fixed ninety feet above the water, had been lifted from its fittings by a single wave, and tossed like a tennis-ball into the sea. I asked Garstin whether he had been stationed on the rock at the time.

“People talk of lightships plunging and tugging at their cables,” he returned. “Well, I’ve tried lightships, and what I say is, ships are built to plunge and tug at their cables. That’s their business. But it isn’t the business of one hundred and twenty upright feet of granite to quiver and tremble like a steel spring. No, I wasn’t on the Bishop when the bell went. But I was there when a wave climbed up from the base of the rock and smashed in the glass wall of the lantern, and put the light out. That was last spring at four o’clock in the morning. The day was breaking very cold and wild, and one could just see the waves below, a lashing tumble of grey and white water as far as the eye could reach. I was in the lantern reading ‘It’s never too late to mend.’ I had come to where the chaplain knocks down the warder, and I was thinking how I’d like to have a go at that warder myself, when all the guns in the world went off together in my ears. And there I was dripping wet, and fairly sliced with splinters of glass, and the wind blowing wet in my face, and the lamp out, and a bitter grey light of morning, as though there never, never had been any sun, and all the dead men in the sea shouting out for me one hundred feet below,” and Garstin shivered, and rose to his feet. “Well, I have only one more winter of it.”